Wembley Stadium’s Head of Culinary has to feed up to 90,000 at a time. To call Harry Lomas’ career admirable would be an understatement. From peeling carrots REALLY well to working for many years high up in the military, to feeding lunch to the queen and much more… Feeding hundreds of thousands of people, without sacrificing quality, has become Harry’s most impressive skill. Truthful, a team player and a man with many stories to tell.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:02:27 Introducing Harry, setting the scene in Wembley Stadium – home of the FA
00:03:04 Starting with Wembley – the scale of the operation
- 00:03:20 “We’ve got about 100 kitchens throughout the whole of the stadium, half a dozen restaurants and each of the restaurants are quite unique…”
- 00:05:04 “I thought it was easy just feeding football fans, then I found out there’s different sorts of football fans. Food is always on the mood. Everyone’s always looking for something different.”
- 00:07:02 “If I got it right every time, I wouldn’t be here. They’d have somebody else here.”
00:09:10 Are all of the restaurants in Wembley open, all of the time?
- 00:09:55 “When there is a bowl event on, everything is open.”
- 00:10:08 “When they asked me to come and do this job, they told me there would be about 9 matches a year. What they meant to tell me is there’s 9 MAIN matches. But I think we do about 25, and last year we seemed to do 125.”
00:10:40 Is the food for members only? Is Harry responsible for food for the public too?
- 00:12:08 “Part of my remit and part of why I like my job is that I want to make an impact on somebody’s journey through Wembley – whether it’s the fish and chips, whether it’s the bagel or whether it’s the fine dining in the 120.”
00:12:46 Serving 90,000 people!
- 00:12:57 “I’ve got an outstanding team. I’ve got four head chefs, a good admin support, a good back-of-house support… and that really is the nucleus of how it all comes together…”
00:13:34 How do you find good chefs and build a good team?
- 00:14:27 “It’s a real buzz when a match is on, everybody is behind it and we’ve gotta make it happen. You know, at the end of a game 50% of the stadium aren’t going to be happy.”
00:14:53 Orientating the food around who’s playing!
- 00:15:57 “You don’t realise the skillset you’ve got if you’ve got 250 chefs that have come to work here – chances are you’ve covered nearly every part of the food varieties there is. They’ve all eaten something somewhere.”
00:16:10 Harry’s role – what does in entail? Live kitchens… Back kitchens… Prep kitchens… The lot!
- 00:17:14 “I get involved, I get told off on many occasions because that’s why I’ve got all the head chefs, that’s why I’ve got people to do it. I’m a bit like the conductor in the orchestra – I try and bring things together.”
00:19:36 The ‘Changing Room Dinners’ event!
00:20:38 To cook in such large quantities, is there compromise when it comes to sustainability and ethical sourcing?
- 00:21:46 “Anything British, I’m delighted. That’s what I want to deliver in here: simple food, cooked well and if it’s British – even the better.”
00:26:27 Military style management – is a kitchen in a restaurant similar to a kitchen in the military? Chatting about Harry’s career before cooking
- 00:27:44 “I think it’s what’s fascinating about our trade – there is many other careers in which you have about a dozen steps to get up to and you can see each one as you’re moving up. And then you’ve got all the different disciplines…”
- 00:30:17 “As I’m hanging around outside, a seargant from the guards comes in and says ‘what are you after young man?’. I say, ‘I’ve come to join the navy’.”
- 00:31:47 “I was sort of just 18, I think I might have been 17 and three quarters, feeding refugees. And that’s scarred my life, refugees as far as the eye can see and you’re feeding them soup and bread because that’s what the allocation was… And it’s absolutely shattering for these people to come out with their hands cupped…”
00:33:37 Getting into the Sergeants Mess, becoming master chef
- 00:34:34 “I’m the guy sort of teaching them how to march, make sure their bed and their lockers are all clean, and puts them into jail and shouts and screams!”
00:37:20 Next steps: being commissioned in the army…
- 00:38:20 “I was partly responsible to help them bring their families from Nepal. At the end of that, very luckily, her majesty awarded me the NBE for doing that. So, that was a nice surprise having done that project and that work…”
00:30:50 Going on to work for her majesty the queen! Big states and events
- 00:40:37 “What they wanted to do is they wanted to have the world’s biggest curry. So they came to me ‘Right Harry, can you arrange for the Guinness book of records, the world’s biggest curry?’. So again, a sucker I am, I thought let’s get on the internet and find out what’s going on there.”
00:45:07 At these events, did Harry have flexibility of menu choice?
- 00:45:47 “99% of everything we do is rehearsed. We’ve got procedures in place and it all comes together like military procedure.”
00:46:19 Did Harry pitch himself as a chef that has served lunch for the queen?
00:47:14 Working in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan
- 00:49:59 “Food in the military is very much about morale. Food’s not good – morale goes down. Morale goes down – the operation effectiveness is broken.”
00:53:22 Feeding the army: is nutrition important?
- 00:54:27 “As much as a footballer needs what he needs – he needs his carbs, and his vitamins and his proteins and all these sorts of things… The military need exactly the same.”
00:55:24 Feeding the army: is there a local market when working in these countries to feed the soldiers?
00:56:15 Feeding the army: chatting about budgets, feeding people for £1.50 a day!
- 00:59:23 “You can’t really feed people with crap… It’s just not cost effective. You might as well buy good, buy once and buy it right.”
01:01:44 Leaving the army and moving onto the Olympics – why?
- 01:02:45 “I suppose after 34 years in the army, and I got the top job in the army, and I’d been doing that for about three, four years. There was a moment in my life, I was coming back from Afghanistan and in the aeroplane I was coming back in, there was some coffins. And in one of those coffins was a friend.”
01:05:36 Feeding 147,000 people a day during the Olympics…
01:08:25 Going for a rest… working in one of the biggest hotels in London, The Grove!
- 01:08:40 “The industry of restaurants is one. The industry of hotels is another – it’s 24/7 hotels, it doesn’t sleep.”
01:13:22 How long did it take for Harry to sort out the Grove kitchens, and how hard was the transition?
- 00:13:58 “It’s the kitchen ethos that’s moved with it. I’m still inside the kitchen really, I haven’t really gone out. I’m still in my safe zone.”
01:14:48 The future for Harry and what gets him excited about his job – letting people use their phone in the kitchens!
- 01:16:38 “One of the big things I’ve found when I was working at the Grove – I went out to the colleges… I’ll tell you a quick story that went very wrong!”
01:24:12 Advice from Harry to those looking into catering
01:27:06 Marks final thoughts and sign off
If you want to learn more about Harry’s awesome careers, experiences or a bit more about Wembley Stadium and how you can enjoy the amazing things we’ve chatted about – check out their website and social pages below… Or, listen to the full episode here.